As the current pastor of Central Baptist Church in Alameda I have had a number of conversations lately, both from people within and outside the church, about the proposed LGBT curriculum. Longtime community members will remember that my predecessor, the Rev. Don Taylor, held very clear and controversial opinions on issues ranging from gay marriage to homosexuality in general. I have come to respect Pastor Taylor as both a man deeply committed to his faith and unwavering in his courage. While I share his faith, I must admit there are things about the current curriculum proposal that I both support and oppose.
I deeply appreciate the district and school board's lengthy process. These kinds of decisions should be made slowly, with a great deal of input from the entire community, with cautious optimism about the possibility of a good resolution. The discussions I have had with district staff have been open, respectful and informative. Regardless of the outcome, they are to be commended for the process that produced it.
I believe the problem the curriculum attempts to resolve is real. Bullying and teasing around issues of gender identity, gender roles and sexuality are common in our schools. I believe they are far more likely to be the result of cultural rather than religious issues. My faith compels me to teach my children to love everyone; bullying and teasing are not an option. For that reason I do not oppose the teaching of the anti-bullying portion of the curriculum, even the sections that specifically address the bullying of LGBT persons.
I do, however, oppose the lack of an "opt out" for the sessions that define "family" as inclusive of LGBT households. I am not saying that legally these households should not exist or that anyone should be forced to agree with my faith-based assessment of morality. Only that when schools teach "values" based curriculum, they run the risk of affirming one religious belief system over another. Since the district is not choosing to utilize a legal definition of family, which would be difficult since the passage of Prop. 8, then they are using a purely values driven definition.
For many people of faith who hold to literal interpretations of Scripture, the Bible does not allow for the open definition of family taught by this curriculum. Thus the problem is that the curriculum not only challenges beliefs about family but challenges the authority of Scripture, thus calling into question religious beliefs of children at a very early age. Given the authoritative role of teachers in the lives of young children, the district risks violating principles of separation of church and state. The most prudent course here seems to be on the side of caution, allowing parents to opt their children out for religious reasons.
Personally I do not believe that I have the right to insist that someone who does not share my beliefs follow them. Nor do I believe that religion condones or justifies hatred, hostility or bigotry. I do believe that religious people should not be forced to choose between the free public education afforded all Americans and a curriculum that instructs their children in direct opposition to their religious beliefs.
Regardless of whether the district believes it can win in court, it seems right not to violate the rights of one group in the interest of another. Allow the opt out for religious reasons, move forward with the curriculum. This seems like a win-win for everyone.
Joe Caldwell is pastor of Central Baptist Alameda.